With a name that literally translates to "Master" or "skilled person" in Cantonese, it is perhaps no wonder that this is exactly what you will need to become if you expect to get the better of Sifu. As an arcade-style kung fu beat 'em up, it makes almost no compromises while demanding that you learn some skills, memorise combos, and develop the expert timing needed to get to grips with the slick combat.
- SIFU // MASTER & ASSASSINS -
The main story arc may be a fairly typical one; after witnessing the death of your father and martial arts master at the hands of a disgraced former student and his gang of assassins, you dedicate your life to completing the training and embark on a quest for vengeance, but there is a little twist.
Despite also being killed by the assassins as a child, the main character – who is actually nameless by the way – is revived by virtue of a mysterious talisman, essentially setting up a core gameplay element where you use talisman to revive each time you fall in combat. Of course there is a catch to that, and each revive comes at the cost of accelerated ageing, with the character getting stronger in attack but more vulnerable to damage the older they get, until you are simply too old to continue.
- SIFU // OLDER, WISER -
It makes for an addictive loop of learning and improvement as you return to earlier areas to get through with more years left to spare as your newly honed skills come together to give you a better shot at the next section. Complete the story and a huge amount of challenges, modifiers, and cheats add a lot of replay value, not to mention the all new Arena mode which arrived alongside the latest release of the game on PC and Xbox.
Sifu is certainly not short of a challenge or two, and I won't pretend that it's all plain sailing. The game can be frustratingly punishing at times, though it feels like there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and urges you to perfect your technique that bit more. If not, an easier Student difficulty mode helps to avoid the exponential failure while you learn the ropes.
- SIFU // TRAINING -
Should you master it enough, then the rewards are easily worth it. The beautifully animated sequences of hits, parries, evades, and finishing moves are just dripping with cinematic style. In fact, the whole thing speaks of Sloclap's obvious affinity for kung fu movies. An early level is created as a direct nod to the Korean film, Oldboy, with a recreation of its famous corridor scene, and fans of The Matrix films will definitely enjoy the first round of Arena challenges!
Little wonder then that the studio saw fit to include the tools needed to create and capture your own cinematic content with both a well-featured Photo Mode and an advanced Replay Editor.
- SIFU // AGENTS -
Key Photo Mode Features:
Photo Mode & Advanced Replay Editor
Character Pose Animation & Rotation
Cinematic Camera FoV
Controls & Implementation:
The two distinct creative modes have very different uses. When still images are what you are looking for then the Photo Mode is naturally the best suited, although it's worth knowing that you can take shots in the Replay Editor too along with many of the same options.
Either way, getting there is straightforward enough with a press of D-Pad ↓ freezing the action and letting you choose a mode or start a gameplay recording to work with later. The shortcut button can be freely remapped too, allowing either a single or dual button combo to be assigned if you prefer.
The y-axis does not match the in-game inversion preference – this drives me mad actually...
Once in the regular photo mode, camera has a relatively large bounding area of ~20 m around the character and moves freely, using a combination of the LS for lateral truck & dolly, and RS for 360° pan with 180° tilt. The L1 / R1 & L2 / R2 shoulder buttons handle the ±90° camera roll and vertical crane height, while the D-pad offers optical zoom of up to 4x to narrow the field of view and bring subjects closer, or down to 0.5x for more wide angle distortion.
There is really very little to complain about in practical terms and, other than the fact that the Y-axis does not match the in-game inversion preference – this drives me mad actually, the main offender is probably the UI. Although it is clean and easy to navigate, it does cover an entire third of the screen and disables camera movement as it operates as a separate mode. The result is a clunky back-and-forth workflow as you make adjustments, one that is best illustrated by one of the focus mechanics.
- SIFU // PHOTO MODE UI -
Found on the third UI tab, the focus options are actually pretty good and can effectively create a shallow field depth that isolated the subject with a cinematic feel. Along with a manual distance setting, a handy Pick Distance option puts up a central reticle that autofocus on whatever you aim it at. The trouble is that there is no way back to the focus menu from here to adjust the aperture for example, leaving you to exit back to the camera movement mode and then bring up the UI again from there.
It's a good feature that could just be better executed, but I am nitpicking here and there are plenty of other positives. Sticking with the focus mode, a useful Target setting will lock the focus onto the main character of any AI, and aperture f/stop values are well simulated with defocused foreground and background to create an authentic depth of field. It even responds to zoom levels with a shallower depth at longer focal lengths, just like a real lens would.
- SIFU // DEPTH OF FIELD -
Centre, cross, and thirds grid overlays can also be toggled to help with compositional alignment, and 5 different aspect ratios let you work with frames from 1:1 square up to a 2.35:1 cinemascope widescreen. This is not just a case of cropping the image with overlaid black bars either, the field of view of the frame widens to emphasise the effect and give genuine width to the shot.
The various ratios are suited to tighter portraits and wider action alike, but either way, you need not be limited only to the in-game action. A dedicated Character tab has the option to hide the actors – yes they are referred to as actors, in case there was any doubt over Sifu's cinematic credentials – and also adjust the pose of the main character.
- SIFU // POSES -
Whether idle or in combat, the player can be cycled through 9 preset poses that include 3 static stances and 6 action moves with up to 15 frames of animation to choose from. If you have the Deluxe Edition of the game then another 4 poses become available, arguably some of the best ones too, though at least everyone benefits from on-the-spot character rotation and completely different sets of poses when using each of the weapon types.
Elsewhere in the UI, there are 8 adjustable colour grading filters to play with (plus another 4 for Deluxe owners), and a very cool Fog Density option to add haze and create a closer atmosphere. Exposure compensation can capably brighten or darken the image across the various environments, while simple vignette and film grain options help to recreate the look of film photography with minimal fuss.
- SIFU // NO FUSS -
It's a sold selection of features to tweak the visual style to your liking, and everything except for the character and focus settings can be saved to any one of five preset slots. Simply select the preset number, put together the setup you want to store and hit Save Preset to keep it at hand for a consistent style across future shots or quick access to a preferred baseline.
A more complicated tool than the Photo Mode, the Replay Editor is all about creating cinematic clips of your kung fu mastery. To use it, you must first record some footage using the Start Recording feature and then nail the gameplay – sorry no, you can't save a replay retrospectively after doing something cool.
Up to 100 clips can be saved and opened in the editor where you can manipulate the camera sequence with a keyframe-based timeline of angles, motion paths, transition effects, and time dilation for that perfect slow-motion punch.
- SIFU // REPLAY EDITOR -
Many of the photo mode features remain, including all colour grading options and personal presets, as well as the free camera positioning and focus which are even enhanced with more advanced options to automatically track a chosen actor throughout the clip. In fact, the only photo mode features which aren't included in Replay Editor are the character posing option, which is completely understandable given that it is intended for moving video and not still images.
There is undeniably quite a learning curve, as there is with any video sequencing software in fairness, but the potential to create stylish and cinematic action clips is enormous and takes the game much further into capture art than purely virtual photography.
Sifu features a fabulous set of environments, and lots of engaging characters to work with...
Despite that undoubted potential, it is the realm of single frames that really keeps my personal interest, and there are many opportunities to capture excellent shots in Sifu.
It's a game that immediately stands out thanks to Sloclap's beautiful art direction. The stylised visuals are a perfect blend of paint-like textures with an almost watercolour softness, and bold cinematic lighting that really brings the world to life. Without even remotely trying to be photorealistic, it somehow makes an obvious non-reality feel totally believable and engaging.
Not just a pretty skin though, Sifu's main story features a fabulous set of environments across its five levels that take you from gangland suburbs and seedy neon-lit fight clubs, through stylish art galleries and onto a corporate tower. Each one is crafted in intricate detail and feels unique thanks to distinct colour palettes and characteristic lighting. Add in the occasional surreal section, plus the 9 additional challenge arenas, and the scope for settings is huge.
- SIFU // CHALLENGE -
You'll find lots of engaging characters to work with too; enemy goons come in all shapes and sizes, and with a plethora of fashion styles, while each level culminates in an intense 1-on-1 battle against each of the infamous assassins, and let's not forget the main character! Playable as both male or female, the player can be customised with a handful of unlockable costumes and, thanks to the effects of that mysterious talisman, has the novelty of progressing from the age of 20 up into their 70's as you play. With their smooth dark hair turning progressively grey and unblemished face becoming ever more wrinkled, it can be perfect for portraying wisdom and guile or youthful exuberance.
- SIFU // AGEING WARRIOR -
Of course, this is all without even mentioning what Sifu is really all about, kung fu! The top-tier fighting is laden with strings of exquisite martial arts moves that are ripe for excellent action shots, if you can manage to hit the photo mode button amidst the maelstrom that is.
It has everything you'd imagine in a kung fu movie; tense stand-offs, hand-to-hand blows, throws, taunts, and weapon wielding brutality. Get the timing right, and you might even catch the bullet time-like evasions and if that's not enough then you can always try your hand at the video replays where all the same appeal holds true.
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Sifu absolutely nails its kung fu movie concept with outstanding, yet punishing combat, and a stylised visual style that is elevated by beautiful cinematic lighting, impressive environments, engaging characters, and a multitude of movie references.
With that kind of inspiration at its heart, the well-featured photo mode is to be geared towards recreating that cinematic feel and will soon have you wanting to capture shots that tell their own story. Should you want more than static frames, an impressive replay editor takes things further and means that this is a game that offers much more than just virtual photography, it is comprehensive capture art.
Full Feature Set:
Access & Control
Photo Mode Access: D-Pad Down (remap available)
Camera Movement: Free camera with bounding area Horizontal Pan: 360° Vertical Tilt: 180° Roll: ± 90°
Load Preset: None + 5 slots
Colour Grading: None + 8 presets
Filter Weight: Non-numerical (11 stops)
Fog Density: Non-numerical (21 stops)
Exposure: Non-numerical (41 stops)
Grain Intensity: Non-numerical (11 stops)
Vignette: Non-numerical (11 stops)
Aspect Ratio: 1:1, 4:3, 16:9, 1.85:1, 2.35:1
Logo: Disabled, white, black
Logo Placement: 4 presets
Hide Actors: None, AI, main character, all
Main Character Pose: Gameplay + 9 presets
Position: Non-numerical (5 - 15 stops) - available on 6 presets
Rotate Main Character: Non-numerical (36 stops, ± 10°)
Transparency: Enable / Disable
Focus Mode: None, manual, target
(Manual) Focus Distance: 0 - 50 m (± 0.1 m)
(Manual) Pick Distance: Point selection via camera
(Target) Target: None, player, AI (multi)
Aperture: f/1.4 - 22 (9 stops)
Switch Overlay: dot, split, grid